I’ve never been one to have an affinity with maths. Numbers just don’t tend to make much sense in my head. And economics? Clueless. I, like the joyful people in this film’s multiple montages, spent the years leading up to the financial crisis of the 00s enjoying life and culture, blissfully unaware of the events to come.
The Big Short does its best to sex up what is, essentially, an incredible dry subject matter. It follows a group of zany, over the top characters embodying various Wall Street stereotypes as they (somehow, because numbers) predict the crash of the housing market that caused the economy to crash. Seeking to profit from this, they bet against the economy and make millions. Yet the main protagonists are (shock horror!) banking types with a heart, who agonise over the consequences of the crash for the population at large, whilst they benefit immensely.
It’s not the most exciting set up, but director Adam McKay delivers the story with stylish flair. There are fast-paced montages to spur the story on. There’s a funk score that gives the feel of a 70s con film. The fourth wall is smashed, drawing us into this corrupt world. There are pithy, brash and eccentric monologues, particularly from Ryan Gosling’s Jared Vennett who is something of a narrator. And there are hilariously played asides from the likes of Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez (as themselves) who attempt to debunk the economic jargon for us poor helpless viewers. It’s almost cartoon-like in its colourful boldness, matched by some exaggerated performances, and a dizzyingly restless camera that will have your head spinning almost as much as the maths.
Yet The Big Short sits somewhere awkwardly between comedy and education. For all the flashy cinematography striving to be the next Wolf Of Wall Street, this is ultimately a film about numbers. Some go up. Some go down. And you won’t always know why or how.
The film does try to humanise the impact of the economic crash, grounding events to a consumable level for us mere mortals without being too patronising. Steve Carell gives a surprisingly moving performance as Mark Baum who represents the moral ambiguity at play – a man making millions off the misfortunes of others. The film only hints at the full impact of the crisis, but perhaps it doesn’t need to show it, after all most of us who see the film are living through it right now. In that sense, the film is a call to arms that will shock and anger many viewers with its reveal of the truth.
Still, those numbers tick away in the background, on mobile screens, on computer screens. And by the end of the film, you’ll have a better sense of economics, but have you really been entertained? With little action besides a lot of frantic conversations, The Big Short is a hard film to invest in.
Watch: The Big Short is out now.